Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Range - San Francisco, Ca

Critical darling--3.5 stars in the Chronicle, one Michelin star all in its first year of being open.

Me and girlfriend Charlie. 'Twas her birthday.

The Space:
Long storefront--bar and tables in front and then an crowded but somehow airy main dining room in back. Range manages to pull off the industrial chic look with a more pronounced homey-ness and warmth then some of its counterparts. Comfortable enough seats and big enough tables. Banquette tables are a little close together, but that seems to be the case everywhere.

The Wine:
A bottle of 2004 Schlumberger Grand Cru riesling. Nicely dry and crips with moderate acid and creeping minerality. Pronounced stone fruit nose--lightly floral. Good small winelist overall, well-priced and with a broad reach--not particularly deep in any one region or style, though. Props to the server for steering me to the riesling instead of the more-expensive Sancerre that I also had my eyes on.

Appetizers: We tried their soup--a flageolet bean soup with crostini and olive oil. Nice and bean-y with an earhty creaminess induced entirely from the beans. It was a suprisingly light but still comforting cold-weather dish. We also had the roasted beets with arugula and goat cheese. A competent take on a classic salad. Beets were left in fairly big chunks which was nice--you could actually bite into a beet instead of swallowing little cubes. Good goat cheese.

The real criticism I had with the appetizers was a lack of innovation and originality. Besides the two that we had (which are pretty standard fare) there was butternut squash ravioli, roasted scallops in scallop jus, and raw hamachi with cucumber, avocado, and meyer lemon (and one or two other items that I forget). All of which are very conventional fare--no doubt all quite tasty--but they weren't pushing any innovation boundaries. And as much as I love butternut squash ravioli, that's kinda reached cliche at this point. Let's be honest.

Entrees were a different story however. Charlie had the chicken--a half roast chicken with pecan, bacon, and scallion bread salad with sherry jus. I know what you're saying--Zuni. It's true. But the pronouncement here? Range's chicken is BETTER. That's right. Crucify me now and feed my entrails to the avocado demons. The skin was not as crisp, but the chicken itself was moister and infused with flavor without being overly salty. Bread salad was fantastic too--more bread pudding than salad with all the ingredients sort of oozing into each other. Flawless execution.

I went with the striped bass (a change from the cod that was on the menu) with melted fennel and baby artichokes. The fish was also crusted with a luques olive tapenade. This dish was great too--perfectly cooked fish (cooked through but not chewy) with a crispy savory skin (thanks to the tapenade). The fennel and artichokes were cooked to just this side of mushy consistency that extract complimentary flavors from the fish. The dish did lack a touch of substance--not to say that it needed a starch, but perhaps an additional more substantive vegetable--salsify maybe? Nevertheless, well-done and fresh--I was tasting something new.


Range's pastry chef was recently featured in San Francisco Magazine as the best in the area. I didn't know this until after we ate and it seems the recognition was deserved. Every dessert had compelling attributes and we had a hard time selecting. We opted for warm crepes with huckleberries and pear. Fabulous. Fresh sweet fruit and made-to-order crepes that were perfectly crisp on the edges.

It was so good in fact that we had to try another dessert and went with the pumpkin pot de creme topped with toasted spiced pumpkin seeds. This was even better--surprisingly light and not overly sweet. It actually tasted like pumpkin and not sickeningly sweet pumpkin in mousse form.

In Conclusion:
Great food in a great space (not to mention relatively inexpensive). Some of the menu lacks inspiration and innovation, but everything we had was perfectly cooked and quite good. And there were more then just the occasional flashes of brilliance. Great wine list, phenomenal dessert. California cuisine done right--perhaps even better then Chez Panisse Cafe. Better service and desserts at the very least.

Cuisine: California
Price range: Appetizers: $7-$12 Entrees: $16-$22
HFF's cost for two (two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts, bottle of wine, two coffees, tax, generous tip): $110
Reservations: 415-282-8283 or
842 Valencia St.
San Francisco, Ca 94110

No comments: